The Fiction Writer’s Toolkit #1 (Naismith’s Rule)

Writing can be anxiety inducing, but fear not!

I have decided to create an on-going list of tricks, tips, and productive tidbits useful for fiction writers. Educational odds and ends I’ve picked up over the years.

See, every so often I’ll stumble upon some factoid or technique so damn good that I can’t help but share it.

Welcome to the fiction writer’s toolkit!


Alright, so let’s say you’re writing a story.

You need your protagonists (or whoever) to make it from Point A to Point B.

There are no vehicles around of any kind, and they possess no special abilities to whisk them away to their goal. Miles of wilderness stretch out ahead of them.

Mountains, forests, and all sorts of impediments stand between your heroes and their intended destination.

Sometimes characters just have to hoof it.

But how do we figure out how long it will take? Do we just wing it and guestimate? Or do we gloss the details over and  hope the audience doesn’t pick up on it?

How do things like terrain or elevation affect walking speed?

These are questions I’ve definitely asked while writing The Witch-Doctor.

One option is to utilize a little something called “Naismith’s Rule“.

William W. Naismith was a Scottish mountaineer who came up with a rule-of-thumb formula for predicting how long it would take to walk over distances, while including elevation factors.

(Apologies in advance to those of you who are not math inclined.)

Essentially, Naismith posited that you should allow 1 hour per 3 miles on the map, and an additional 1 hour per 2000 feet of ascent. (Click here to learn more.)

Which can be summed up as 1 h / 3 mi + 1 h / 2000 ft.

Is it necessary to do the math, just to figure out how long it will take your characters to travel over a fictional landscape?

Probably not.

Plenty of writers seem to get by without ever invoking Naismith’s Rule. In truth, there are plenty of things you could introduce in your story that smooth over such land ventures.

But if you’re like me, it definitely helps put the mind at ease while roughly plotting out such travels, especially if traversal through the wilderness is a major aspect of your story.

Equanimous Rex is a writer,  podcaster, and esotericist. He currently writes non-fiction articles for Disinformation and Modern Mythology. Additionally, he is the creator of The Witch-Doctor serial fiction podcast, which is a part of the Fallen Cycle mythos. Equanimous enjoys wandering verdant forests, playing with dogs, and cascading ontological shock.

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